I sat waiting among the hustle and bustle of the Portland (Oregon) International Airport. I was nervous and somewhat fidgety in anticipation of a long awaited arrival. I kept checking the time to make sure I wasn't late and that the plane was on schedule. I then noticed a United Airlines 727 pull up to the gate and slowly come to a stop. As people began to disembark, I stood and casually walked to the end of the jet way to catch a glimpse of my invited guest. I recognized the trademark thick head of silver hair. I was finally to meet Hapkido Grandmaster Bong Soo Han, Chairman and Founder of the International Hapkido Federation and one of the foremost Hapkido masters in the world. He seemed to glide effortlessly as he moved toward me. I waved my hand and smiled. He caught my eye, nodded and acknowledged his recognition.
I have been quite active in martial arts for 27 years, studying Kenpo, Shotokan, Okinawa-Te, Aikido, and Hapkido. My focus for the past 23 years has been traditional Taekwon-Do, attaining a sixth dan. My own interest in martial arts began in the mid 1960's when The Green Hornet series showcased Bruce Lee as Kato. The release of the Hollywood blockbuster film Billy Jack solidified my martial arts path and my love for the Korean arts. Grandmaster Han demonstrated his exceptional and innovative skills as the choreographer and stunt double for Tom Laughlin's (Billy Jack) fight scenes.
I have been teaching for over twenty years and have opened a number of schools in Oregon and Washington. I have won every possible championship title in the Pacific Northwest within the circle of traditional schools; but this day, I am like a child awaiting Christmas morning. To my delight, Grandmaster Han had accepted my invitation to come to Portland to conduct a special Hapkido seminar.
I discovered that Grandmaster Han truly follows the path of the "Warrior Way" or Mudo (Budo in Japanese), a path that fit my own mind and spirit. Grandmaster Han is the teacher I needed to take the next step, the teacher I had sought who had the courage to adhere to traditional teachings of the "Way" rather than to allow sport to rule.
The weekend was exhilarating to me. Here was a man who brought Hapkido to the United States thirty years ago. As the senior student of Hapkido's founder, Choi, Yong Sul, Grandmaster Han wanted to present Hapkido to the world. In the early 1970's he got his chance with his arrival upon the Hollywood film scene. His legacy continues to unfold
We spent nearly two and one-half days together and discussed the past, present and future of Hapkido. I was concerned that I would ask too many questions, but he always answered each one in his quiet and gentle manner. "Open up your heart," he would tell me, "share what you know." Bong Soo Han and his Fifth Dan student Eric Friske, conducted a flawlessly executed seminar of superior quality.
What I was most impressed by was the attention given to the philosophy and detail of the basics as opposed to the flashy, advanced techniques which were awe inspiring, but they were not the focus of the seminar.
The seminar participants worked diligently, many of whom were my own students. I opened my mind in response to his opening statement of, "Empty your cup. All ways are good, but now I'm going to show you my way. Forget what you learned before." Some of the Hapkido techniques were similar to those I use in my own schools.
It was the "way" they were taught that made a significant impact on me. Hapkido is not a simple art. Its soft circular movements appear deceptively simple and yet are quite difficult to master, especially if one has a predominately hard style background. Grandmaster Han recounted a story while he was teaching FBI agents Hapkido techniques. What he conveyed was that the average person has so much to learn. He could only introduce five techniques in the better part of a day. Mastering any art takes a lifetime and Hapkido is no exception. The difficulty comes in clearing one's mind of distraction, previous training, fear, expectation, and fully becoming immersed in the moment. The need to practice basic techniques diligently and patiently is the only way to improve and to remember these basics when the need arises.
Hapkido is based upon the ability to resist meeting power with power, and to yield to your opponent's power and redirect it in a soft, circular manner. Learning to be in harmony with your opponent's energy flow is paramount in Hapkido. This can only be accomplished by being aware of one's own energy flow from the Tan Jon, or ki energy center located about two inches below the naval, according to Grandmaster Han.
Distance, timing, relaxation, and redirection in a circular "effortless" way appear to be at the heart of Grandmaster Bong Soo Han's Hapkido. The very nature of non-resistance is about acceptance, followed by the circular redirection of force executed from a powerful center, flowing with the attacker's flow. "Please have your own way, "Grandmaster Han said with a polite hand gesture as he explained accepting an attack as opposed to using force to stop it.
Master Han's traditional teaching aligns with my own, focusing on the traditional values of character, discipline, self-esteem, and unifying the body, mind and spirit. In the world of sport Karate, Olympic style Taekwon-Do, and a multitude of a younger and younger "Masters," a weekend with Bong Soo Han had a tremendous impact on those attending his seminar, including myself. The impact was of a deep and powerful nature, and one that planted a hope of great discovery.
I keep hearing his words, "You must have patience to accomplish your goals . . . but you must take action." Patience and sincerity are two prominent characteristics exuded by this man. He glides as he walks, moving in complete harmony with himself, which has produced a soft, serious persona of grace, confidence, and effortlessness, the epitome of Hapkido.
As we delivered Grandmaster Han to the Portland International Airport for his journey home, I felt a sadness and a sense of relief. I could now take the time necessary for reflection and ponder his words,
"Be patient, open up your heart and maintain your center." Grand Master Bong Soo Han
About the author: Grand Master Steven Ruiz Bettencourt, Eigth Dan, owns and operates Bettencourt's Taekwon-Do America Headquarters Dojang and supervises four other branch schools. He trains in Traditional Taekwon-Do, Hapkido and weaponry, as well as maintaining a private psychotherapy practice. He currently is working toward his Psy.D. in psychology, and is producing a series of Taekwon-Do training tapes.